Pretty please stop
October 9, 2014 6:27 AM   Subscribe

My husband drinks 6+ beers a night and smokes 2 packs a day. I used to drink quite a bit, but when I took note of how much it drains out bank account, I cut down to 1 or none a night. In the last month he has spent over $500 on drinks and cigarettes. That is money we could be saving. How can I implore him to stop without being a nag?

He never seems drunk. Those 6+ are spread out over about 4 hours. I have brought up how much we spend and he agrees and says he will cut down but then he doesn't. I asked him if he thought he might have a problem and he said yes. He said he would look in to getting help, but hasn't. I don't have a problem with a couple of beers a night, but I do have a problem with wasting so much money every month and the fact that it is going to harm his long term health. What can I do to help him and encourage him to take better care of himself for our family. We are in our late 30's if that makes any difference. I am tired of transferring money from our dwindling saving account to cover this. I don't want to be a nag because he works hard and is always stressed from work, but something has to change. I love him and know he would feel happier if he took better care of himself.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I am tired of transferring money from our dwindling saving account to cover this.

Erm, what?

Ultimatum and separate accounts for necessities and pleasure.
posted by devnull at 6:35 AM on October 9, 2014 [30 favorites]

This is not a thing he is going to worry about until it stops just being your problem, and starts being his problem too.
posted by garlic at 6:37 AM on October 9, 2014 [24 favorites]

"Either we make decisions about our money together, or I leave."
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:39 AM on October 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

You've got two issues here which are currently very entwined. Maybe it would help if you separate them out. Sit down with your husband for a real family talk - discuss life, where you are right now, hopes and dreams, long-term goals, etc. Two things it sounds like you'd like to bring up are (1) your concern for his health and wellbeing (and perhaps how his habits affect his social interactions with you and others) and (2) your finances. Figure out which of these he'd like to prioritize working on, and then work on it together. You might do a health/fitness/goodhabits binge together, or you might do a carefully crafted budget. Something like an envelope budget would give him $n per week to spend on recreational food/drink/smokes, and once that's gone it's gone.
I suggest picking one approach and not trying to fix everything simultaneously, because it'll be easier to focus, and because I can imagine it being very difficult for him if he feels he can't do anything right. "nag" = you're on him about health, and money, and whatever else all at once. versus "helpful reminders" of a single shared goal.
posted by aimedwander at 6:44 AM on October 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you're using your dwindling savings to pay for your husband's bad habits, that's sort of crossing a line into something that is not really a bad habit anymore, but an actual dependency-type problem. I wonder if you're focusing on the money to avoid dealing emotionally with the real issue that is potentially much more scary and difficult to deal with. I mean, eventually you're going to run out of money completely, and what will he do then? Do you think it's reasonable that he will drink and smoke you into poverty and then suddenly realize what he's done and stop?

If I were you I would stop enabling this behavior that is harming your entire family's future. Protect that savings somewhere in an account he can't get his hands on and see what happens if he literally cannot afford to buy beer.
posted by something something at 6:59 AM on October 9, 2014 [16 favorites]

There are a lot of issues here to unpack. I think it's a problem that your husband drinks six beer every single night. Even putting the notion of alcoholism aside, that's a ton of cash and a ton of calories consumed. Dwindling savings due to bad habits? Yeah, that's a big problem too. The fact that he says he'll get help and doesn't? Very problematic. I think you really need to stress to him that he gets help and works with you, as your life partner, to get your financial house in order, or else there will be consequences. Either that or you live with it. I would not be able to just live with it.

I no longer smoke cigarettes but my partner still does. I started tracking my expenses using YNAB (You Need A Budget) and suggested maybe he'd like to try it too. He agreed and I created a budget category specifically for cigarettes. Although he doesn't drink as much as your husband, he does have a drink every day or two, so we created a separate category for alcohol.

Now instead of some vague idea of how much he spends on those things, he can see exactly what he's spending. We had a look at it last night and I could tell he was surprised. Instead of him saying "I'm probably spending around $15 a day on smokes and booze," I can show him numbers that definitively say "Last month, you spent $235.28 on cigarettes and $297.34 on alcohol, which is 17 percent of your net income from that month." I didn't use actual numbers here, but you get the idea. It's been wonderful in helping us determine where we need to cut our spending and maximize our savings. But we have to be on the same page for this to work. Best of luck.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:01 AM on October 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

Although you have a legitimate health issue here, our solution to the financial side of this is the "slush fund". We have a joint account for family expenses, and each month, a preset amount is transferred into a personal account for each of us, earmarked for frivolities. We are not accountable to the other for how we spend this money. We have agreed upon guidelines for which expenses are joint, and which come from the slush fund.

For example:
Bills - joint
Dinners out together - joint
Haircuts - joint (since this is necessary to be presentable for work)
Stuff for the kids - mostly joint, unless it's really frivolous
Groceries to pack work lunch - joint
Eating work lunch at a restaurant - slush
Video games - slush
Craft supplies - slush
Going out to a bar with coworkers (and the taxi fare home) - slush

Basically, if it benefits the *household* it's joint, and if it just benefits one person, it's slush.
If one of us decides to buy a PS4, they can do so without asking permission, but they'll have to pack their lunch for awhile first. This really takes a huge amount of pressure off in terms of being able to buy things you want that are guaranteed to make your spouse go WTF @.@

In your house, smokes and alcohol would come out of the slush fund, and having a fixed frivolity budget might (maybe?) encourage him to divert some of those funds towards different things. Also, you stand a chance of bringing this up without raising his hackles quite as bad as if you're straight up attacking his booze.

The health side of things is a thorny beast to tackle. It's really hard to force a grownup to take charge of their health when they aren't motivated.
posted by telepanda at 7:05 AM on October 9, 2014 [16 favorites]

I don't drink or smoke, but I think a carton of cigarettes sells for about $60 nowadays (depending on brand). A case of beer is $15-$20 (again, depending on brand). So he's spending about $12/day on cigarettes and about $5/day on beer.

If it turns into you having to choose between fighting against beer or against cigarettes, fight against the cigarettes.
posted by doctor tough love at 7:06 AM on October 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

That is a lot of beer and cigs. If he can't/won't cut back, then it's very possible he has an addiction issue.

Sit down with him. Tell him you are going to stop transferring money out of savings, which means that at his current rate of consumption, you won't be able to pay your bills. Ask him what he plans to do about that, since you are a couple and have joint responsibility. Is he going to let the electricity be cut off, or your credit get trashed? At what point will he do something?

What he says will give you an idea of how to proceed. If he refuses to engage at all, then you have a problem that might require more drastic action in order to take care of yourself.

But hopefully this is not at that level, and he will decide to put on his big boy pants and come up with a solution with you.

This is not something you can solve on your own, except by leaving. If he doesn't want you to do that, he needs to take responsibility.
posted by emjaybee at 7:42 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I meant to add, if he asks why you can't just keep using your savings, the only appropriate answer is "Because it's stupid to trash our future because you can't be bothered to cut back on beer and cigs."

If he wants to give up some other thing he enjoys to pay for his beer and cigs, I guess that's an option too, if something like that exists in your budget. But it would have to cost just as much, and not affect you too, so that seems unlikely.
posted by emjaybee at 7:48 AM on October 9, 2014

Your husband is probably addicted to cigarettes and alcohol -- compulsive use despite adverse consequences; expresses interest in stopping but unable to or unwilling; beginning to negatively affect his life, i.e. relationship with you, and surely his health sooner or later.

Addictions are not easily kicked and it is sure as hell not something you can do for him, or even convince him to do through nagging. Part of addiction is that the substance becomes a crutch that he needs to get through his day; he can't stop because he depends on the substance for an essential part of his function. Likely, stress relief and emotional numbing. If he were to suddenly stop, these problems would overwhelm him. He needs to make a commitment from inside himself that he will reduce his dependence on these substances and he needs to make changes in his life that allow him to meet the needs that these substances are meeting for him right now, such as reducing sources of stress, going through therapy to work through emotional issues that he is blunting with substances, finding healthy outlets like exercise, etc. But this is a big life project. If the only one who wants it is you, there's no chance, and pressure from you will only feed the cycle by adding stress that needs to be coped with.

I suggest you seek support for yourself, such as support groups for family members of addicts, to help you understand this and what you can do, and especially what you can't. You are probably going to have to deliver wake-up calls to him and give him a chance to ask himself how much he values your relationship, your finances, and his own health, and let him feel the consequences of his choices should he choose not to prioritize these.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:51 AM on October 9, 2014 [23 favorites]

Seconding Paul. The strength and te desire to change these things has to come from inside him. I'd suggest tackling it from the money side --- sit down, figure out your expenses, and review them together. I think if he sees in black and white exactly how much he's spending on this, the two of you may well be able to come to an agreement on a smaller monthly number for the slush fund. Once you do, funnel it into a separate account that's under his control --- but separate from your other household accounts. You might not be saving as much as you'd prefer, that way, but in the other hand this way it won't become a sore point in your marriage that makes the problem worse. And if he finds he's draining the account before the month is out, he'll know it's on him, and it may help plant the seed he needs to change.
posted by Diablevert at 8:02 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't favorite PercussivePaul's comment enough. If you go to an AlAnon meeting you will meet lots of people who have dealt with the exact same scenario, or nearly, and they will be able to suggest measures you can take while keeping yourself safe.

It sounds like it could be a long road before he starts really questioning his habits and not just telling you to get you off his back. Along with everything else, people who drink that much on a daily basis can be doing a lot of damage to their health without realizing it. As strange as it sounds, a lot of people seem unaware of this when they are drinking daily. Telling him that right now is probably going to come across as just another scare tactic but it's good for you to know.
posted by BibiRose at 8:04 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Check out Al-Anon and learn about how other family members of addicts deal with these kinds of problems.

It's not about the money, that's just a symptom.

There are things he can do to quit smoking, there are drugs, patches and support groups. He can talk to his doctor about which is appropriate for him.

He can go to AA tonight to stop drinking, if he wanted to. He doesn't want to.

So go to Al-Anon and listen to what others are saying. Ask questions, get information. Then decide what you want to do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:05 AM on October 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is a very real concern.

You need to have actual numbers on this. I don't remember if Mint has a category for this; other MeFites above have recommended YNAB (which I have never used).

I don't smoke, and I rarely drink (if I drink one beer in a month, it's a lot for me). While my mom drank (and probably still drinks) one mixed drink every evening, I wouldn't consider her an alcoholic. My dad used to smoke two packs a day when I was growing up, and my mother would routinely complain about how this made the house smell and ate into discretionary spending.

An entire six pack of beer every night, while perhaps "enjoyed responsibly" (I seriously question this), gets really expensive and is A LOT of empty calories. Two packs of cigarettes a day is 1 1/4 cartons per week, which at $50-$60 a carton is also expensive, not to mention terrible for his health (and yours, if he smokes in your presence). The drinking and smoking might be (unhealthy) coping strategies for something else. He's got to find out what the something else is and treat it.

The good news is that he admits he might have a problem, though he may just have said that to get you to shut up. If you've got real, hard financial numbers on this, you've got a good leg to stand on, particularly if you know that he wants to buy some MowerBeast™ 9000 or similar expensive toy. Getting him to get mental help or help quitting is going to be an issue. You can suggest it until you are blue in the face, but it has to be something he wants to do for himself. Financial motivators are good.

I suggest, as those above have suggested before me, you separate accounts and each of you have accounts for individual fun and pleasure (from which his beer and cigarettes must be pruchased), in addition to a joint account for things like the mortgage, groceries, and so on. Budgeting $X per week for beer and cigarettes may work, but it's so easy to blow a budget, particularly with addictions like this.

Couch it as concern for his health, make the financial arguments, and separate your accounts. It may take a while, but he'll get the picture eventually.
posted by tckma at 8:39 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Alcohol and tobacco are both addictive. These are not habits he can just casually stop. He will need structured support to change his life and stop drinking and smoking.

Al Anon could be a good first stop for you to understand how to support him in making these changes.
posted by alms at 8:52 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is lots and lots of good advice in this thread, particularly in regard to Al-Anon and how to deal with your budget that you should pay attention to, and that I won't repeat.

I agree that the underlying issues need to be addressed first. Once he is willing to examine whatever it is he is trying to numb himself from (and has the tools to do so), then these habits can be addressed.

If you really feel that this is all just habit/learned behavior, and that there are no underlying issues to be addressed, then you need to figure out what motivates him. For example, a family member is extremely motivated by saving money. When we added up the cost of his vices, he had an immediate incentive to stop those habits. Another family member really really wanted to have children but they were having a hard time conceiving. Sitting him down and explaining the potential risks to his reproductive health from smoking gave him enough incentive to quit smoking the very next day. In both of those cases though, the vices were really more learned behavior or hold-over behavior from college days, not behaviors that were being used for emotional support.

Finally I will leave you with this practical point - people who quit drinking need to replace the sugar they were getting from the alcohol. Be prepared to still spend on sodas what you were spending on beer, at least for a while.
posted by vignettist at 9:42 AM on October 9, 2014

The easy answer here is to divide your finances. You each have an account for yourselves and a shared savings account. Pay checks get deposited into shared account, which only you have access to. A certain amount from that account gets automatically deposited into each of your separate accounts to be spent on whatever you each want. That amount can be equal between you or a percentage of whatever you make. You take care of the bills, savings etc from that savings account. This is all assuming your spouse will agree to this type of management.

The hard answer to hear is that the above will not really solve your problem. It's kind of just kicking the can down the road. Alcoholics, and it sounds like he is one, don't tend to get easier to deal with as time and the disease progresses. It may be the five hundred dollar a month habit now but five years from now it will likely be something else and/or something worse. He needs some professional help here and you may need to give him some real motivation to get that help. Meaning, he gets help or you starting seriously considering separating.
posted by teamnap at 9:46 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're living with an alcoholic and you're enabling it.

You need to choose whether or not to attempt to salvage this, and if so, things that MUST happen are 1) he ceases having general access to the bank account so he cannot continue to bleed it, and 2) he must seek (or go if you arrange it) help and continue with it.

If he isn't actually DOING (not just saying he's willing to do) both of those things, this isn't salvageable.
posted by stormyteal at 10:14 AM on October 9, 2014

Use the saved money toward a goal that he cares about.

"But we could be saving that money!" feels kind of empty as an alternative to what most people use drinking/smoking for, which is blowing off steam and enjoying yourself in the moment.

"Let's go to Hawaii next summer!" or "Let's get a new grill!" or something actually fun is actual motivation to save rather than blowing your money on ephemeral pleasures.
posted by Sara C. at 10:46 AM on October 9, 2014

Also, if your dwindling savings are literally funding this, why not just stop making those transfers. Let him see that the electric bill is going unpaid because he drank the money. If there's always magically enough money in the account for fun, it's hard to artificially force yourself to economize.
posted by Sara C. at 10:47 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your husband is very unlikely to stop drinking and smoking on your request. Like, hit-by-lightning unlikely, because it sure sounds like addiction to me.

But the financial issue can be improved. First of all, stop transferring savings to fund his drinking and smoking! I don't get why you're doing this in the first place. Don't mortgage your future for bad present spending. Get those savings into a form that's harder to mess with, a set of rolling CDs or bonds perhaps, something that can only be accessed with some difficulty. Keep that money fully separate from your monthly expenses.

You probably need to separate your finances entirely, with a joint account for paying bills and household needs and separate accounts for each of you for everything else. This won't stop him from draining his personal account every month, but he won't be able to drain your account or the bill-paying account.
posted by zug at 12:37 PM on October 9, 2014

Could he start making his own beer, smoking no-name cigarettes? These changes have worked for various folks I know.
posted by zadcat at 1:30 PM on October 9, 2014

Your husband is depressed.

Seconding everything above, but a few things that you can do immediately and that don't depend on him doing anything (yes, I know, it isn't your job, you're not his mother, but if you want to try some stuff, these are the things I'd try):

Stop transferring money to cover his booze and smokes purchases.

Depending on where you live, Swedish snus is much cheaper than cigarettes and is an excellent way for a person to get off the smokes while still enjoying some tasty tobacco. If he refuses to try, or doesn't like it, at the very least encourage a switch to pouch tobacco, which is cheaper.

A six pack a night is alcoholism, unfortunately. Don't know what you can do about that. Perhaps a good idea would be to stock the fridge with root beer or ginger ale or something, an encourage him to replace one beer a night with a root beer, then two beers a night, etc.

Another good idea is to start going for nightly walks together. This cuts into smoking and drinking time, is a good way to bond, is a good way to get exercise (obviously), releases some endorphins, and is basically the best thing a person can do. This might encourage a greater interest in health and fitness, which beer and smokes are counter to.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:29 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is AA a good environment for someone who wants to quit smoking?
posted by doctor tough love at 9:01 PM on October 9, 2014

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